My office has a holiday party every year, with an open bar. This is funded by a collection beforehand, to which everyone contributes based on his pay grade. My expected contribution is on the higher end of this scale. In the past I contributed to this fund, and drank heavily. Now I am in recovery and will not be partaking. Must I contribute?
—Bitters and Soda
Dear Bitters and Soda,
I am assuming that this is a voluntary (albeit very expected) contribution. And if it is voluntary, you are not required to contribute, particularly if you have strong personal reasons for not wanting to do so. Here’s how to tell the organizer without making yourself unpopular. “Don’t overshare,” advises a female friend of mine who is in recovery. In fact, there’s no need to reveal that you have had problems with alcohol at all. Just say, “For personal reasons, I would rather not give money that goes to pay for alcohol.” A polite person will not press you for further information.
However, if you intend to go to the party yourself (which I recommend, because it’s an important bonding opportunity), it’s only fair that you contribute something. Suggest another way you could help: “I would like to bring chips and dip/put on a skit/make decorations instead.”
These days, money is pretty tight at my company. In past years the office holiday party took place in a cool bar with catered food and free drinks. This year, I feel I have no choice but to hold it at the office, and I’m asking all employees to contribute $20 to pay for drinks and snacks. I got kind of a negative reception from people when I put out the “save the date” email. Is it bad etiquette for employers to ask employees to pitch in for the holiday party?
—Times Are Tough
Dear Times Are Tough,
People will get upset if you ask them to pay for their own party, for the same reason that people get upset when charged for bread in a restaurant: Nobody likes to pay for something that they expect to be free, and that was free in the past. Ditto for asking employees to bring a dish, which for busy professionals is akin to asking them for money. It’s better to cover costs out of your own pocket, or ask the bosses to do so, than require employees to pitch in. If you don’t want to do that, simply skip the holiday party this year. It’s supposed to be a perk, not a burden.